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South End market adjusts to changes in community

Posted by  October 16, 2013 04:25 PM

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Don Quijote Market.jpeg
By Abigail Collins, Globe Correspondent

When Luis Blanco began working in his father’s market in the South End more than a decade ago, the neighborhood, he recalls, was run down, filled with bars and lounges.

When his father, Jose “Freddy” Blanco, took over the store owned by a family friend in 1980, the neighborhood if anything was even worse.

“This place was like a jungle,” his 62-year-old father says, referring to the Washington Street neighborhood around his Don Quijote Market during ‘80s.

Today, the street has gentrified and now, as Luis, 27, prepares to take over the management of the Don Quijote Market from his father, the younger Blanco acknowledges challenges ahead.

“We haven’t reached out successfully to the newer community,” he said.

The “newer community” he is referring to are the more upscale potential clientele who he says have moved into the neighborhood in recent years.

Though he only took on real responsibilities around age 13, Luis has been helping out at  Don Quijote, at 1639 Washington St., for as long as he can remember.  

“I grew up in this store,” Luis says, “This store has been my life.”

Some regulars have been shopping in the market since he was young, Luis said, but not enough new customers are joining their ranks.

Where Don Quijote’s selection of snacks, basic grocery items and Spanish staples satisfied the needs of the old clientele, the new community, Luis says, is looking for more. 

To meet their needs, he is planning to stock organic, natural fruits and vegetables, to draw in neighbors with more money and different tastes from long -time customers who would come here for the small selection of everyday groceries or to pick up a lottery ticket.

Now, both Blancos say, theirs is a mixed community of people living in the Blackstone/Franklin Square area near the intersection of Washington and West Concord streets.

That’s not to say long-time customers won’t enjoy these new additions as well.  Still, the old-time staples will remain alongside them.

One customer, who declined to give his name, said he has lived in the area for 21 years and shops at Don Quijote for groceries and scratch tickets. He said he would definitely buy organic fruits and vegetables if they were available. Even with the current selection he said he likes to stop at Don Quijote before going to other grocery stores.

“Sometimes the prices are better,” the customer said, adding, “it’s seemingly one of the only family-owned places [in the area].”

Another long-time customer, Leon Gentle, 70, has lived in the area since 1974.

“I generally come for a snack on the way to work,” said Gentle. 

He said one reason he has been a frequent customer for so many years is because of the way customers are treated.

“They respect you for who you are,” he said, “It’s all about respect.”

Freddy Blanco said he supports his son’s changes. He said he agrees shoppers will like seeing more fruits and vegetables for sale and noted that this is not the first time adjustments have been made to better suit the community. Eight years ago the Blancos opened a deli and made physical renovations.

Among the new products the Blancos will bring to the expanded store are fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries and gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan products. Luis also plans to modernize the market, making it more accessible by creating a store webpage. 

“We want,” says Luis, “to reach a bigger audience.”

Both Blancos said they are confident that they will maintain their customer base even though new grocery stores have opened in the area. They insist that they don’t feel threatened by stores like the Foodies Urban Market just a short walk away on Washington Street. 

Said Luis, “We make every step thinking about our customers.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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